The "money no object" desktop PC

Summary:What kind of custom desktop rig can you own if you've no limits on the amount of cash you're willing to throw at it?

The other day I took on the challenge of putting together a spec for a budget $500 PC.  The result was a 2.0GHz dual core system with 1GB or RAM and a 160GB hard drive.  Not a bad system I'm sure you'll agree, and you have the advantage over a cheap OEM system because you know what every component you stuck into the system is.

That was a $500 system.  What happens if you raise the bar and made it a no-limits system?  What kind of custom desktop rig can you own if you've no limits on the amount of cash you're going to throw at it?

Rules of the game

OK, some ground rules.  First rule, there are no rules.  Second rule, well, I'm going to limit my purchasing to what I can find at Newegg.  Why?  No reason other than the site is pretty comprehensive and easy to navigate – and no, before you ask, they don't send me money if you decide to buy the components for your "money no object" PC from them!

Let the spending begin!

Note: All prices correct as of 5/30/07.

CPU - Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 2.66GHz

CPU
When I was drawing up the spec for the $500 rig I started by choosing a motherboard that had it all (video/audio/network support).  This time I'm going to start with the CPU and work from there.

I went for the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 2.66GHz.  This is a monster quad-core CPU.  Backing up the 2.66GHz cores is 2 x 4MB L2 cache.  This processor just screams for multi-threaded apps to be thrown at it.  And if 2.66GHz isn't enough for your needs then you can easily overclock this CPU to 3.2GHz.

Some people will wonder why I didn't choose the faster X6800.  The reason is simple.  You can overclock the QX6700 so that it's as fast as, if not faster, than the X6800, but you can't add two extra cores to the X6800.

Price - $968.00

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Motherboard - ASUS Striker Extreme NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI

Motherboard
Choosing a motherboard was a three-way toss-up between ASUS, ABit and MSI.  In the end I went for my favorite motherboard vendor - ASUS.

The ASUS Striker Extreme is about as top-end a motherboard as you can get.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Three PC-Express slots (2 x x16 and 1 x x8) means room for two graphics cards and a physics card
  • Support for 8GB of DDR2-800 RAM
  • FSB supporting 1333/1066/800MHz
  • 1 x ATA133 header and 6 x SATA II
  • 2 x Gigabit LAN
  • 10 x USB 2.0 ports
  • SupremeFX audio system

A motherboard doesn't get much better than that!

Price - $329.99

RAM - 8GB (4 x 2GB) OCZ Gold DDR2-800

RAM
Having already spent well over $1,000 I'm not going to start being cheap over the RAM I use.  It has to be DDR2-800 and I need 8GB of it (which of course, means that the system needs a 64-bit OS to take advantage of it).

There are a lot of different RAM companies out there competing for business and companies like Mushkin claim very low latency RAM, but I remain convinced, and since stability is as important as speed I'll stick with a company I trust, such as OCZ or Kingston.  Looking at the options I think my money goes to OCZ for the Gold 4GB DDR2-800 kits.  4GB currently retails at $249.99 so it's not cheap to get 8GB of the stuff, but the quality and good warranty makes it worth it.

Price - $499.98

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Hard drives - Western Digital Raptor X WD1500AHFDRTL 150GB 10,000 RPM SATA and Seagate Barracuda ES ST3750640NS 750GB 7200 RPM SATA

Hard drive
No messing about, a "money no object" system needs to be fast and have a lot of storage.  This is why I'd fit two different drives into this rig.

The first would be a fast 10,000 RPM boot drive - a Western Digital Raptor X WD1500AHFDRTL 150GB.  Why?  Here's why:

  • Average Latency: 2.99ms
  • Average Seek Time: 4.6ms
  • Average Write Time: 5.2ms
  • Cache: 16MB

This would make for a super-speedy boot drive

Hard drive
As for workhorse drives, I'd want to make sure that I had plenty of space for everything - video editing, music, games, ripped DVDs.  Here's where two Seagate Barracuda ES ST3750640NS 750GB 7200 RPM SATA drives come into play.  These are fast, robust and come with a good five year warranty.

  • Average Latency: 4.16ms
  • Average Seek Time: 8.5ms
  • Average Write Time: 9.5ms
  • Cache: 16MB

Price - 1 x 269.99 and 2 x 279.99

Graphics card - XFX PVT80USHE9 GeForce 8800Ultra 768MB GDDR3

graphics card
This is where an expensive system becomes ridiculously expensive.  Everything about the XFX PVT80USHE9 GeForce 8800Ultra 768MB GDDR3 is impressive, including the price.  Check out the specs:

  • Core clock: 650MHz
  • Memory clock: 2.2GHz
  • Memory: 768MB GDDR3

Even when you know that the spec is impressive, you can't help but wince at the $873.99 price tag, especially if you want two for the SLI rig.  But this is no time for pricetaggery.

Physics card
But what are you going to do with that free x8 PCI-Express slot?  Why not fill it with a PhysX processing unit, a steal at $143.99 (just remember that your games need to support this for you to get any benefit from it, and even then the benefits are dubious).

Price - 2 x $873.99 and 1 x $143.00

Optical drive - Lite-On Blu-ray/DVD/CD Burner

Optical drive
Gone are the days of needing multiple optical drives (OK, they're useful if you're copying discs on a regular basis but most people aren't doing this much nowadays).  The best thing to do is to get a single drive that does everything you want. 

Since money is no object here it makes sense to get a drive that can handle CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray.  The Lite-On Blu-ray Triple burner does all that.

Price - $499.99

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Case - Thermaltake Armor Series VA8003SWA Silver ATX Full Tower

Case
A case is very much a matter of personal choice so I don't expect many of you to agree with my choice of case.  I went for the Thermaltake Armor Series VA8003SWA Silver ATX Full Tower.  Why?  Because I have an Armor Jr and I've been very pleased with it (although not all Thermaltake cases are created equally).  The full tower gives you plenty of room for everything you're going to want to cram into your PC, but at the same time offers good airflow and cooling.

This case has it all:

  • 90mm side and top cooling fans
  • 2 x 3.5 inch bays
  • 10 x 5.25 inch bays
  • 7 x expansion slots
  • Front mounted dual USB 2.0, Firewire and audio

Some other things that I like about Thermaltake cases is that they are solidly built and sharp edges that can disembowel are few and far between.

Price - $199.99

PSU - ENERMAX Galaxy EGX1000EWL 1000W

PSU
A big rig like this is going to need a fair bit of power, which is why I went for the ENERMAX Galaxy EGX1000EWL 1000W PSU.  There are a number of reasons why I like Enermax.  Here are a few:

  • Modular cabling
  • Plenty of connectors 1 x Main connector (24Pin) 1 x 8P CPU + 12V 1 x 12V (4+4)Pin CPU +12V, in combined mode 1 x 12V (4+4)Pin CPU +12V, in split mode 3 x 6-Pin PCI-E 1.0, red color 2 x 6+2Pin PCI-E 2.0, red color 8 x peripheral 6 x SATA 1 x Floppy 1 x Fan RPM
  • Over voltage/overload protection

1000W is probably overkill, but I'd rather have the comfort of a good PSU with plenty of spare capacity.

Note:  What's worth noting is that PSU alone cost two-thirds what the $500 budget PC did!

Price - $329

Monitor - ViewSonic X Series VX2255wmb Glossy Black 22 inch 5ms DVI Widescreen LCD Monitor

LCD
OK, another subjective choice.  The monitor (or monitors) you choose (personally I'd go for a dual monitor rig, but that's not for everyone) depends on what you're going to be using your system for.  Assuming you want an all-purpose system then you can't go far wrong with the 22 inch ViewSonic X Series VX2255wmb.  This panel has a 5ms refresh rate and is capable of delivering 1680 x 1050.

Price - $349.99

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CPU cooling - ASUS V-60 92mm Vapo Bearing

Cooler
Another subjective choice because the type of cooling you need depends on how hard you plan to push the system (if you're going to be overclocking then you'll need a more specialist cooler) but one thing for sure is that you're going to need to replace that stock cooler (for something less noisy and more efficient).

Here I've chosen an ASUS V-60 92mm Vapo Bearing cooler.  This is a pretty effective cooler that still manages to be reasonably quiet - a desirable combination.

Price - $42.99

Keyboard/Mouse - Microsoft Entertainment Desktop 7000

Keyboard/mouse
I like the Microsoft Entertainment Desktop 7000 keyboard and mouse, so that's what I'm choosing for this rig.  But anyone who was planning on spending the amount of cash we're looking at here would probably want to choose what suited them and their needs. 

If you don’t like Microsoft stuff, then choose something else.

Price - $129.99

Sound card - Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite 7.1 Channels PCI

Sound card
(Thanks to voska for pointing out that the sound card had gotten lost in translating this post from my PC to the web!)

What better sound car to add than the Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite from Creative.  This card will give you the best output no matter what kind of audio you want to get out of your PC - whether gaming or home theater.  This card is THX-certified and can handle decoding DTS and Dolby Digital EX.

Price - $259.99

Speakers - Creative GigaWorks G550W 310 W 5.1 Speaker system

Speaker
Creative GigaWorks G550W 310 is a 5.1, THX Certified wireless speaker system which is ideal for gamers and home entertainment use. The main selling point of this system is (apart from the quality output) is the wireless sender that communicates with the rear speakers.  This is a nice feature which means you don't have to mess about with trailing wires.

Price - $335.99

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Operating System - Windows Vista Ultimate

Windows Vista
This system has gotta have Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit to take full advantage of the hardware that packed into the system (especially that 8GB of RAM).

Price - $358.99

TOTAL PRICE - $7025.84 (excluding shipping)

Notes

Here are a few thoughts on the system:

  • As I was putting the spec together I thought it would come to more than $7025 (my thoughts were hovering around the $8K-$9K mark). 
  • I could have spent more. A lot more.  More disks, more optical drives, more expensive RAM, bigger LCD flat panel, fancy case and cooling system ...
  • While I like the idea of 8GB of RAM I'm not that thrilled about Vista 64-bit.  I get the feeling that this 8GB system running Vista 64-bit might not be a whole lot faster than if I dropped it to 4GB and ran Vista 32-bit.  Without the hardware to put together I'm only guessing but I'd want to keep an eye on that (anyone want to sponsor this project ... :-)
  • Prices of high-end components like the ones used here fall quickly.  Wait six months or so and you'd make a substantial saving on building this system.

Thoughts?

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Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Windows

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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